CSD Senior Homestead Tax committee discusses hiring firm to analyze demographic data
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By Zoe Seiler, contributor
Decatur, GA – The Senior Homestead Tax Exemption Committee met Sept. 2 to discuss its next recommendation to the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education which is to hire an analytical firm to provide detailed information on the demographics and income of senior citizens.
The analysis will help the committee fine-tune the information and make sure they are protecting the seniors they are trying to protect, committee member Paula Collins said.
The current senior homestead tax exemption was established in 2016, with a five-year sunset, with the goals of keeping seniors in the community and reducing new student enrollments, Decaturish previously reported.
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The committee also plans to engage the community to provide them with information on the proposed revisions to the tax exemption but Collins said they can’t do that until the analysis is complete.
Collins added that the committee is also figuring out how to reach people given the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought of how do we engage people in the current situation we’re in and how do we give people enough information to understand what this is all about, how did we get here, that kind of thing,” she said.
Committee member Maria Pinkleton said one of the biggest components to community engagement will be sharing what the school district is doing differently this time, what they’ve learned since 2016 and how to “make sure this monster doesn’t appear again,” she said.
“We definitely need to acknowledge how did the numbers not come out as anticipated and why do we have confidence in what we’re saying now,” Collins added.
The CSD board anticipated the exemption to cost the school district $1.2 million however it cost an extra $3.5 million in reduced revenue in 2019 and an estimated $5.7 million in 2020, Decaturish previously reported.
Collins shared a paragraph of a 2016 memo from the school board and said it speaks back to one of the charges of the committee which is to protect vulnerable seniors, she said.
“But at the end (of the memo), I think it has an important piece that we need to keep in mind which is ‘many seniors have also expressed concern that they might be hit with higher taxes again in five years,” Collins said. “The school board’s goal is to provide long term, sustainable tax relief to all seniors. If the landscape changes such that we need to adjust the exemption in five years, which we hope is not the case, the board is much more likely to examine income caps, assessment limits or other tiered tax relief before it would do away with senior tax exemptions altogether.'”
“The school board has made the commitment, they’re still making the commitment, they’re just saying what we had was too costly and that’s why this committee is even standing here,” Collins added.
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The committee was charged with reducing the cost of the exemption to the originally planned $1.2 million while preserving as much of the exemption as possible, especially for those on limited incomes. The total amount of senior school tax exemptions will be budgeted at $4.3 million.
The committee recommends two separate exemptions: One for seniors 65 to 69 years old that is based on federal adjusted median income, with an exemption value adjusted to reflect home values. The total will be capped at $1.1 million.
Seniors 70 and older will also receive an income-based exemption and the remainder of the budgeted amount, no more than $3.2 million, will be distributed to all seniors over 70 regardless of income.
Writer Sara Amis contributed to this story.
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